Richard Rogers, Ivan Harbour, David Chipperfield and Muir Livingstone are just a few of the big-name international architects who’ve touched down for a visit in Sydney.

Chipperfield and Livingstone will represent their firms, David Chipperfield Architects and Foster + Partners, at a design competition for a landmark tower development at Sydney’s Circular Quay today, while Rogers and Harbour showed media through their near-complete International Towers buildings at Barangaroo on 7 December.

And as is often the case when foreigners come to town, fresh and diverse opinions on building and urban design have come with them. Rogers and Harbour made headlines yesterday when they challenged popular local opinion by suggesting that high-density at close proximity to the harbour is a good thing for the city.

"I see absolutely no reason why you shouldn't build tall buildings towards the front," Rogers told Fairfax, justifying the scale of his firm’s three International Towers Sydney.

"If I think about the great cities of the Mediterranean, they always build up towards the front and in scale terms, water helps a lot because you've got a big space.”

His opinion contrasts that of the City of Sydney who has been fighting this type of development at the site tooth-and-nail since its conception. A spokesman re-emphasised the city’s opinion by suggesting that the harbour foreshore is for the community, and that assigning towers to the water’s edge is not evidence of a real urban design strategy.

But Harbour pre-emptively countered this stance.

"This project pushed against the city's thinking about density at the water's edge," Harbour says.

"We did believe – and I think that's been realised – that that density right at the water's edge, bringing the city to the water finally, has brought an extraordinary vitality that you see right at the city core.

“Bringing the CBD to the waterfront can invite and opens its arms towards Pyrmont, towards the west. There's a new relationship that can be established. That place is extending the city in its heart. It's a very positive thing."

Looking east from Pyrmont at the new International Towers. Photography by Brett Boardman

Chipperfield’s take on city and urban design has also earned him time in the press, but he appeared more sympathetic to concerns from the CoS that the public is losing out to big, bottom-line development. The UK-architect notes that his firm, who is working with local architect SJB for their competition design for a tower at 174-182 George Street, advocates a balanced approach to city development which balances the bottom-line with the preservation of human scale and a city’s character.

"We have to make sure that in the way we build our cities, we don't, in the urgency to leverage value and generate money out of investments, that we don't leave behind the other responsibility, which is to make places where people live and work and fulfil their aspirations or at least are given vision and idea about how their expectations might be," he says.

Australia’s BVN and Hassell will take on US firms Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates and HOK, as well as UK-born practices Foster + Partners and David Chipperfield Architects in the design competition for the Lendlease tower at George Street, Circular Quay.

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill will be working with Australia’s Fender Katsilidis Architects, Kohn Pedersen Fox with Allen Jack and Cottier, HOK with PTW Architects, and Foster + Partners with Architectus.

Presentations to the jury will wrap up 8 December.